In a conversation over on Reddit in /r/gamedev, someone asked the one question that is asked of most anyone in any creative field: How do you stay motivated? The best answer so far: You can't rely on motivation; rely on discipline instead.
That one insight distills down so many of the individual bits of wisdom and insight I've reached over the years into how this stuff works. If you get into the habit of doing creative things, you become a creative person. If you build the discipline to write every single day, it becomes that much less likely by default for you to become blocked, or to leave work unfinshed. If you build the discipline to revise your work and treat it impartially, like someone else's work (and in a way it is: are you the same person you were even five minutes ago, before you started reading this?), it becomes that much less likely by default for you to not fix your mistakes or learn from them. And so on.
We don't like the idea that creativity starts with discipline, though. We like far more the idea that it starts with inspiration or genius, because those are unquantifiable and therefore magical. If creative work is nothing but, well, work, then it isn't so magical anymore, is it?
The biggest lie creatives tell themselves and others is the lie of "inspiration" — that the way this business works is you sit around and wait to get into the mood, or for some revelation to smash into you out of a clear blue sky, and then the work just pops out in one big lump. It's never worked that way, although I strongly suspect many creative types have a good reason to make it sound like it works that way — it makes them look like "geniuses", for one, and it makes the whole business seem that much more insular and sacerdotal. The few, the proud, the artists.
If it sounds counterproductive for me to let the air out of my own tires, so to speak, by attacking this myth, it's only because I know by now how its mythic properties tend to do more harm than good. Yes, I do believe that some people are far more talented than others, but not for the reasons that are commonly thrown around. Talent isn't a function of just having neat ideas alone; it's about being able to turn those ideas into some kind of reality, which is why mediocre but competent bricklayers can make a living churning out tie-ins, and while great, unappreciated geniuses who finish their one masterwork starve in obscurity.
It's not just because society stacks its decks against maverick creatives (although there is that); it's because we make creatives feel bad for trying and failing, and because we put such harmful emphasis on genius all at once and out of the blue. We talk a good game about how the overnight success took 15 years, but in the end, it's the success we are led to covet most, not the process. Every bright idea out of the blue has always just been a starting point, but we're so obsessed with the finished product that we forget the process matters a lot more to the creator than the end result. Just as you should rely on discipline and not inspiration, you should put your faith in the process, not the product.
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